Summer is traditionally music festival time, especially the end of July and the start of August. This year of course there was no musical travel to be had and we, the pro musicians of the world, had to sit and watch our international travel and performance dates go by in an empty haze.
I personally was set to premiere several new works for solo piano at a two-week festival in Bosnia as we speak. Instead, here I am typing at home on my laptop, windows closed tight against the smoke and mask nearby in case I need to brave the grocery store soon.
So, since getting on that airplane for exotic musical adventures isn’t an option, I thought it would be nice to relive some of the times when it was.
"Salut D'amour" — Written by Edward Elgar, performed by Nicola Benedetti & Petr Limonov
"Salut D’amour" is the epitome of romance. Elgar had just gotten engaged to the love of his life, Caroline Alice Roberts, and he presented her with this piece, this “Love’s Greeting,” as an engagement present.
My own performance of this piece didn’t include any romantic involvement, but the violinist and I became fast friends (she was also an American!), and there was definitely a certain type of romance in performing this old love letter in an ancient European stone church, dressed in our concert gowns.
This festival was also quite near to some of the oldest beer brewing monasteries in the world, which of course we frequented often, and there was a certain romance in that as well!
"Piano Trio in E Minor, Op 92 No 2 (mvt 1)" — Written by Camille Saint Saens, performed by the Yuval Trio
French composer Saint Seans was an older man when he began this work. Where his music was lighthearted and carefree in his youth, this is solemn, if not brooding and ominously dark.
The cool thing about festivals is getting to perform with people from all over the world. I performed this trio with a violinist and cellist I had never met, and we are still friends to this day! This is a very challenging piece for the pianist — there are so many very fast repeated chords all over the keyboard. I had to have a page turner since there is no time to lift your hands from the keys and flip pages yourself, and I remember my page turner accidentally turned multiple wrong pages onstage! Once we got down the street to the local biergarten after the show, we had a hearty laugh about the panic that caused!
"O Nata Lux," from "Lux Aerterna" — Written by Morten Lauridson, performed by Voces 8
"Lux Aeterna" is a stunning five-movement work from American composer Morten Lauridson. He wrote, “I composed 'Lux Aeterna' in response to my mother’s final illness and found great personal comfort and solace in setting to music these timeless and wondrous words about Light, a universal symbol of illumination at all levels — spiritual, artistic, and intellectual.”
"O Nata Lux (Oh light born of light)", is a breathtaking a capella movement from "Lux Aeterna," right in the middle of two giant orchestral and choral movements on either side. I was touring with the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra performing this piece across the Eastern block of Europe. Interestingly, one of our venues forbade an American composer to be performed in their hall! We had to cut this piece from our program for those performances.
"Billy the Kid, Gun Battle" — Written by Aaron Copland, performed by the New York Symphony
From a trip to Riga, Latvia
"Billy the Kid" is a musical telling of the legend of the American outlaw composed by Aaron Copland. It follows his life with these movements: "The Open Prairie," "Street Scene in a Frontier Town," "Prairie Night (Card Game at Night, Billy and his Sweetheart)," "Gun Battle," "Celebration (After Billy's Capture)," "Billy's Death" and "The Open Prairie Again."
Definitely check out the whole suite, but I chose "Gun Battle" because the piano and the timpanis are responsible for a good portion of the battle sounds musically. You have to be exactly in sync to pull this off, and that’s actually really hard to do!! In the Baltics and Scandinavia where we were performing this, the stages were too small for our giant orchestra, so all of the instruments were squished into weird spaces. The percussionists and I were on opposite sides of the room trying to line up our gun battle parts! We succeeded, but … barely.
"Ubi Caritas" — Written by Maurice Durufle, performed by the Houston Chamber Choir
Ubi Caritas is a modernized setting of a Gregorian chant, which translates to “where charity and love are, there God is.”
As a young college freshman, I left the country for the first time to perform in Vancouver and Ubi Caritas was one of the songs we performed. It was so beautiful it stuck with me for years (The impact of my first bout of international travel no doubt influenced that as well.). Years later as a professional, I was leading my own group in Rome, and we performed this in the Vatican with my parents in attendance. I will never forget that full circle moment as long as I live.
"Cancion y Danza No 14" — Written by Frederic Mompou, performed by Clelia Iruzun
Literally “Song and Dance,” this piece is a perfect example of the lush sounds of 1920s France, of which Frederic Mompou was a master.
I had a great time performing this in gorgeous villages at the base of the Italian Alps. I recall at one of the recitals I was more nervous that there was a real Picasso on the wall near my elbow and a genuine hunted bear skin under the piano (head intact) than I was about performing!
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